Skip to content

Antal, Frederick

    Image Credit: Storia Dell Arte

    Full Name: Antal, Frederick

    Other Names:

    • Frederick Antal

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 21 December 1887

    Date Died: 04 April 1954

    Place Born: Budapest, Czechoslovakia

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: Hungary

    Subject Area(s): art theory, Marxism, and social history


    Marxist/social-history art historian. Antal was born to a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Alajos Antal, was a medical doctor and his mother was Sofia Gerstl. The younger Antal completed a law degree in Budapest and then continued there as well as Freiburg and Paris to study art history. In studied in Berlin under Heinrich Wölfflin and then in Vienna under Max Dvořák. He received his doctorate in art history in 1914 writing his thesis under Dvořák on neoclassical and Romantic French painting. Antal volunteered in the Print Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (1914/1915) cataloging the prints and drawings with Johannes Wilde. In 1916 he joined the illustrious discussion group the Sonntagskreis, whose members included intellectuals such as the philosopher György Lukács (1885-1971), the sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) and art historians Arnold Hauser and Wilde. As World War I progressed, the Austro-Hungarian government, under whom he served, assigned him to Udine, Italy, to curate the art in this occupied territory. After the fall of the Empire, and the creation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (March 21, 1919), Antal became Vorsitzender des Direktoriums (Chairman of the Board) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, where he assisted in opening the museum’s private collection to the public and organizing a successful exhibition with the help of museum director Otto Benesch. As Vorsitzender of the museum, Antal headed efforts to promote artists and protect national monuments. His tenure ended abruptly after the Counterrevolution of summer 1919, which forced him to flee first to Florence and then to Vienna. Partially funded by the University of Berlin, Antal traveled extensively in Italy between 1919 and 1923, spending most of his time in Florence. He completed his magnum opus, a history of sixteenth-century Florentine painting in the 1920s, but declined to publish it. He had, in the meantime, become enamored with a Marxist dialectical theory of history, but also, with the realization that any writing about late Italian painting (“Mannerism”) depended upon a thorough understanding to the fifteenth-century revolution which was the early Renaissance (Blunt). He married Theodora von Lobell (later divorced). The years 1923 to 1933 Antal spent as a resident of Berlin, where he collaborated with Bruno Fürst (1891-1965) as editor (1926-1934) of the periodical Kritische Berichte zur kunstgeschichtlichen Literatur, a publication primarily concerned with methodology. In Berlin his interest was primarily on Italian sixteenth-century painting. In 1932 Antal toured Soviet museums, about which he later lectured (published 1976). The rise of the Nazi regime in Germany in 1933 forced him, as a Jew, to flee again, this time to England, where he was befriended by the art historian Anthony Blunt. In 1936 he remarried, now to Evelyn Foster (b. 1903/4), a British citizen, and Oxford graduate. Antal spent his first years in England rewriting his Florentine art history to incorporate his earlier findings and social-history approached. He lectured at the Courtauld Institute and became a naturalized citizen in 1946. Finally, in 1948, his reworked text was published as the book Florentine Painting and its Social Background: the Bourgeois Republic before Cosimo de Medici’s Advent to Power: Fourteenth and Early Fifteenth Centuries in England. His research on drawing at the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, were incorporated into the 1949 catalog by Hugh Popham and Wilde. The same year he published “Remarks on the Method of Art History” his new-found credo on art-historical method. Thereafter, Antal’s interests shifted from French classical/romantic painting to the 18th-century British artists Hogarth and Füssli. He died at his Marlborough Place home in 1954. His manuscripts on Hogarth and Füssli were published posthumously. His collected essays, Classicism and Romanticism, with other Studies in Art History, published 1966, contained some of his best writing, articles. Antal’s methodology can be seen as blending that of Aby M. Warburg with a more traditional Marxist view of art. In his later writings, he increasingly applied the concept of Marxist dialectical materialism to art history. He suggested that the concept of artistic style is primarily an expression of ideology, political beliefs and social class. This methodology has been criticized as assuming too strong a determination of artistic style by social constructs. Antal was also criticized for defining an artist’s identity too narrowly by his patron or benefactor’s social class and thereby neglecting the artist’s subjectivity. The review of Florentine Painting by Millard Meiss in the Art Bulletin (1949) is most illuminating, both toward Antal’s methodology and of the art establishment’s reaction of his work. Antal’s Marxist beliefs and reputation as politically a Communist effectively excluded from the Western academic world after 1948. His books following Florentine Painting were less imbued with this methodology. After his death, his social-history Marxist style became more popular and appreciated. The critic and art historian John Berger cited Antal as a major influence on Berger’s work and the medievalist Louis Grodecki in the 1970s acknowledged Antal’s important study on competing Florentine monastic orders in architectural commissions. Blunt ascribed to Antal one of the earliest art historians to clearly define the term “Mannerism” and particularly Füssli’s relationship to the earlier movement.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Klassizismus, Romantik und Realismus in der französisschen Malerei von der Mitte des XVIII. Jahrhunderts bis zum auftreten Géricault. Ph.D., Vienna University, 1914, partially translated into English as Classicism and Romanticism, with Other Studies in Art History. New York: Basic Books, 1966; “Reflections on Classicism and Romanticism.” Burlington Magazine 56 (1935): 160; Florentine Painting and its Social Background: the Bougeois Republic before Cosimo de’Medici’s Advent to Power: Fourteenth and Early Fifteenth Centuries. London: Paul, 1948; Fuseli Studies. London: Routledge & Paul, 1956; Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London: Routledge & Paul, 1962.


    Berger, John. “Frederick Antal: A Personal Tribute.” Burlington Magazine 96 no. 617 (1954): 259-260; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, pp. 134-136; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 77; Grodecki, Louis. “Definitions and Theories/Historical and Physical Circumstances.” Gothic Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977, p. 30 [misspelled as “Antel”]; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l’histoire de l’art: de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, pp. 155, 199, 341, 344; Haynes, Deborah. “Antal, Frederick.” The Dictionary of Art 2: 131; Metzler Kunsthistoriker Lexikon. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1999, pp. 1-4; Blunt, Anthony. “Frederick Antal.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munchen: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 3-6.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Antal, Frederick." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: